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Muy Bien 

Even Texans and those who have immigrated from South of the Border agree that Tequila & Peppers (2320 Veterans Memorial Boulevard, Metairie, 837-6696) serves "authentic" Mexican cuisine among its bountiful menu.

It's certainly not by chance. Co-owner Lucio Cano is a native of Mexico who has been sharing its heritage with diners for more than 27 years, most of it in the New Orleans area. In the kitchen is Cano's brother, Chef Santiago Cordoba, who personally ensures everything is fresh and above par.

"We do very traditional, very authentic Mexican cuisine," says business partner Xavier Lespinasse. The restaurant's motto is "Mexican food so authentic ... you'd think we don't speak English" and customers agree the restaurant lives up to the claim. "We get a lot of people in from Texas who say, 'This is the first place we've found where it's truly authentic.'"

The majority of Tequila & Peppers' customers come from the neighborhood, and it also is drawing regulars from the Latin, Spanish and Honduran communities, Lespinasse says. To enhance the experience, the restaurant brings in live Latin music at least once a week and hopes to expand that schedule to two nights. Currently Lespinasse and Cano bring in a guitarist to play on Thursdays, while customers are treated to $1 margaritas.

As its name promises, the business specializes in margaritas -- both frozen and on the rocks -- and the concoctions are as lovely to look at as they are to sip. The "house" margarita is a classic version with fresh-squeezed limes and is made with white tequila, eliminating any harsh aftertaste. The frozen version comes out lime green and is so smooth and refreshing that it could be easy to lose track of consumption.

The margarita menu offers six special versions of the favored drink as well as a classic margarita and fruity options in peach, strawberry and colada. The special mixes include some untraditional ingredients such as cranberry juice and Sauza Hornitos tequila in the Horni Margarita, and Hornitos, Midori melon liqueur and sweet-and-sour mix in the Midori Melon Margarita.

To make the margaritas consistently special, the bar uses only Sauza brand tequilas and top-shelf liquors to mix the drinks and always keeps lots of fresh limes on hand. "The best top-shelf margarita is made from fresh-squeezed lime juice," says bartender Mickey Cox. "And the Sauza company carries the best tequila." Margaritas aren't the only drinks available, of course; the drink specials take up a whole page of the oversized menu. There are a half-dozen Mexican beers such as Dos Equis, Corona, Tecate and others as well as domestic beers, wine, other mixed drinks and non-alcoholic beverages.

Once visitors have libations, they are treated to a variety of menu offerings featuring authentic Mexican dishes but also a number of Tex-Mex dishes, steaks, seafood and more. "We've got something for everyone here," Cox says.

Traditional specialties of the house include Carne Asada, a plate filled with specially-seasoned and char-broiled beef served with refried beans, Mexican rice, pico de gallo, guacamole and tortillas. On the Tex-Mex side of the menu, diners will find flautas, chalupas, chimichangas and more. Dessert offerings include the traditional flan and sopapillas as well as the innovative Platanitos Sucre: Bananas Foster with a Mexican twist, served with either ice cream and honey or flambéed with Grand Marnier.

Seafood offerings include Butterfly Shrimp a la Vera Cruz, in which shrimp are sauteed in a special red chili ancho sauce along with poblano peppers and onions then served with Mexican rice, guacamole and grilled Linares cheese; and red snapper Vera Cruz, which tops a grilled red snapper fillet with a special Mexican sauce, tomatoes, olives, lime juice and chile peppers and includes Mexican rice and guacamole. Appetizers range from Mexican pizza to special nachos made with hot Mexican sausage or steak or fajita strips. Even the soups sound adventurous: the Sopa de Tortilla combines chiles, tomatoes, avocados, apasote and tortillas, and the Sopa de Lima soup uses shredded chicken breasts, limes and traditional Mexican spices.

A trip to the restaurant can be a pleasant eye-opener to those who thought they knew traditional Mexican cuisine and a comfort to those who have longed for authentic South-of-the-Border tastes. Lespinasse says that's his favorite part of the job: "Watching the people's reaction when they have a good meal and enjoy themselves. You feel like you've done something good."

click to enlarge Bartender Mickey Cox concocts the margaritas that give Tequila & Peppers half its name -- as well as a host of other libations.
  • Bartender Mickey Cox concocts the margaritas that give Tequila & Peppers half its name -- as well as a host of other libations.
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